“Get the net!” They can be the three most exciting words uttered in tournament bass fishing. However, for a novice co-angler, those three words can also stir feelings of sheer terror in a tournament setting. This is especially true if the fish to be netted is a gargantuan largemouth, worth $100,000 and a lifetime of recognition for your pro partner. After all, during a heated battle with a feisty bass, there exists a couple of seconds in which the responsibility of getting that fish in the boat rests entirely with the person netting the fish. And when that responsibility falls on a co-angler's shoulders, he/she had better be prepared.
Normally, netting a fish is a simple task. However, if you happen to be fishing with the tournament leader when he/she suddenly hooks into a thrashing 7-pound largemouth on 10-pound test line, things may not always go as planned. Throw in the fact that you might have a cameraman alongside filming the entire melee and you can see how the stress factor can increase almost exponentially.
I can certainly empathize with co-anglers in this matter. In this situation, netting a fish becomes as difficult as being the ball holder for the game winning field goal in the final seconds of the Superbowl – all eyes are on the kicker, but bobble the snap and you are suddenly demoted to the Hall of Shame.
The key is to remain poised. Net handling savvy and knowing when a fish is ready to be netted are skills that come with experience. And with a little preparation, co-anglers need not be intimidated by the responsibility of netting a pro's fish.
Co-anglers are not required by any rule to net a pro's fish. Pros and co-anglers netting each other's fish is a commutable act of courtesy. But, if for some reason a co-angler is not comfortable netting a fish, they certainly do not have to do it. In fact, some pros prefer to net their own fish and ask that the co-angler simply stay clear of the entire netting process.
The best course of action is to have a complete discussion about netting expectations and procedures before take-off so there is no miscommunication during the battle with the behemoth.
In most cases, the standard practice is for pros and co-anglers to net each other fish. With that in mind, here are a few netting pointers:
* Get familiar with your pro's net. Believe it or not, nets come in a vast array of shapes and sizes. Some guys have nets with 8-foot handles. Others have nets with funky arm braces and buttons that make the handle extend out. For this reason, I always pick up the pro's net and get a feel for it before take-off.
* When you arrive at the first fishing spot, take a moment to get the net in position before making a cast. My routine before the first cast is to take down the stern light and to get the net in position. I always point the net handle towards myself so I can quickly grab it up on my way to the front deck.
* During the day, keep the net clear and ready for use. Perhaps it is Murphy's Law, but it is amazing how everything in the boat gravitates towards the net. The first time you really need the net, it will be buried under life jackets, tangled up with lures or holding down the anchor. Just keep an eye on it throughout the day and keep it clear for use.
* Put your rod down when your pro has a fish on the line. Obviously, this begs the urgent question: “Should I reel in my line first?” Admittedly, knowing whether or not to reel your line in before getting the net is a dilemma. However, there are some brief guidelines that you can use to help combat this situation. If the pro is fishing on a short line in shallow water, such as flipping, pitching, or sight fishing, don't try to reel your line in before grabbing the net. There simply is not enough time to do so. Pros can have a fish to the boat in a few seconds when using short-line techniques. In this situation, simply push your button or flip your bail to create slack, put your rod down, and grab the net.
The opposite is true when your pro is making long casts or fishing deep-water techniques. Carolina rigs, crankbaits, topwaters, and other “long-cast” techniques usually require the pro to fight a fish over a greater distance. This gives the net person a few more moments to get in netting position. In these situations, it is usually wise to reel up your line (very quickly, of course) before getting the net. This way if the pro does have to fight the fish around the boat, your gear is out of the way.
* Use two hands on the net at all times. Two hands give you more control and flexibility to net the fish.
* If the pro is fighting a fish around the boat, follow him and net the fish standing next to him. Do not try to net a fish from the back deck when your pro is on the front deck. Get shoulder to shoulder with him, but not in his way.
* Know that smallmouths are the kamikazes of the bass fishing world. Because of the their intense speed and explosive jumps, smallmouth are the hardest bass to net. After a decent fight, largemouth bass will usually “lay up” on their side as if to say, “I surrender.” This is not the case with smallmouth bass, as they will fight until the bitter end. Just when you think a smallmouth is ready to “lay up,” it will take off on another drag-screaming dive or tail-walking run and the fight will last another minute. So try to avoid premature “stabs” with the net.
* If smallmouth bass are the most difficult fish to net, then muddy water is the most difficult water clarity to net in. This is because the water takes away all of the netter's depth perception and does not allow the netter to read the fish. The best way to handle this is to let the fish lay up on the surface and then scoop.
* Never come down on a fish from above with the net. Always try to scoop the fish up from underneath.
* The netter's job is not done until the fish is in the boat. Although this may sound elementary, the number of co-anglers who start celebrating a net job as soon as the fish gets in the net continually amazes me. On two occasions I have seen fish jump out of nets that are momentarily rested against the side of the boat while the pro and co-angler start high-fiving each other. Make sure the fish gets in the boat, preferably down into the floor of the boat.
When a pro says, “Get the net,” it is not the time to start wondering where the net is, or how it opens. It is not the time to untangling pliers, measuring boards, or life jackets out of the net. It is not the time to stand on the back deck, a rod in one hand, and a net in the other, taking long distance stabs at you pro's fish.
As with many other aspects of bass fishing, netting fish successfully boils down to being alert and focusing completely on the task at hand. When your pro asks for the net, calmly and quickly put down your rod, grab the net on the way to the deck, stand side by side with your partner, gently scoop the fish into the hoop and hoist it aboard.
As a co-angler, take pride in good netting techniques. After all, you want to make the experience of netting a big fish an unforgettable one, not an unforgivable one.
The Co-angler's Clinic: Packing a manageable amount of tackle
The Co-angler's Clinic: The importance of the pre-tournament meeting
The Co-angler's Clinic: Arriving at the tournament site
The Co-angler's Clinic: Packing for a fishing tournament means careful planning
The Co-angler's Clinic: Analyzing the amateur experience